Orange juice can curlers and On-the-roof suntans #AtoZChallenge

O is for Orange juice can curlers and On-the-roof suntans. Fifteenth of 26 posts in the April 2021 Blogging From #AtoZChallenge. Theme: “Endwell: My Early Teen Years”— adding my story to the family history mix. Please join me on the journey.

During my early teens in 1963-65, the favored hairstyle was straight, shoulder-length hair with a flip at the bottom — sometimes teased at the top for what today’s stylists call “elevation.”

Alas, my curly brown hair had plenty of elevation — especially when it was rainy or humid. The trick was trying to flatten my hair and straighten my curls out.

One sure-fire method was to set my hair using orange juice can curlers. The Hair Do magazine cover below gives you a relatively fancy idea of how this worked.

Hair Do magazine cover from the 1960s. Image: Pinterest

Air dried coiffure

In my early teens, large curlers, blow dryers and myriad hair products were not yet commercially available. So we curly-haired girls turned to DIY solutions — stockpiling frozen orange juice cans until we had enough to cover our heads.

Most of the teen girls on my block, and even some of the moms, set their hair this way — then wrapped a light chiffon scarf over the top so their coiffure could air dry. Thus it was normal on our street to see females at work and play with a head full of curlers.

Frozen orange juice cans made excellent hair curlers during my early teens (1963-65). Photo: Molly Charboneau

I became adept at using the orange juice can curlers in my early teens — but when I couldn’t air dry in the daytime, I’d have to sleep overnight with them in. Ouch!

The only way to do it was to hang your head off the bed — which made for a challenging night’s sleep. Fortunately, chemical hair straightener kits came out in my later teens and I was able to give up the OJ curlers for good.

Getting an early tan

Another beauty challenge for teen girls in the early 1960s was having a good tan over the summer. There were no sunscreen creams back then. In fact nobody was aware of the damage the sun’s rays could do to fair skin — and being fair, I usually burned my first time or two in the summer sun.

On the roof suntanning (c. 1964). That’s me on the left, at age 14, my hair freshly out of orange juice can curlers, getting a rooftop tan up on our screened porch with my friend from up the street. Photo: Norm Charboneau

My teenage girlfriends and I exchanged tips about this tanning/burning problem, and the accepted solution was to start your tan as early as possible and build it up gradually.

So some time after Easter — when it was often still cold out with frosty nights — I’d lay a blanket down in our back yard at high noon, put on my bathing suit, and start working on my tan. Brrrr!

On-the-roof tanning

Eventually, this gave way to a new and improved procedure: I’d climb onto the roof of our porch (the same one where I read Edgar Allen Poe) and start my tan up there, where the dark roofing was a bit warmer.

Sometimes my girlfriend from up the street would join me. And there, on high — with our hair carefully set and clad in our modest two-piece bathing suits — we’d start our on-the-roof suntans to be ready for the summer.

Up next, P is for Peg: My mulitasking mom. Please leave a comment, then join me as Endwell: My Early Teen Years unfolds one letter at a time!

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37 thoughts on “Orange juice can curlers and On-the-roof suntans #AtoZChallenge”

  1. Oh my goodness did this bring back some memories. Many a summer was spent on my best friend’s roof improving our tan. I had pale skin too so it was never really a tan. Just a burn. We read many issues of Dolly magazine and or Seventeen and increased our knowledge about all things fashion, cosmetic, sexual and medical.

  2. We didn’t have orange juice cans where I lived but I had that same hairdo in the 1960s.

    We used coconut oil to accelerate tanning and afterwards rubbed raw tomato on our red, flaking skin!

    I’m paying the price for my sun worshipping now with regular trips to the skin specialist to have skin cancers removed.

  3. I remember using giant curlers (the size of juice cans) when I was a teenager in the 70’s. Sleeping in those curlers was truly a pain. My mother-in-law, now in her mid 90’s, tells stories of sunbathing on the roof of her dorm at Birmingham Southern College. I remember that my mom would put Coppertone on us but if it had sunscreen at all it was an SPF4.

  4. My mom (b. 1953) talks about how she used soup cans to get a curl *just* at the end of otherwise long straight hair (late 1960s, early 70s). I also remember reading Amy Grant’s early biography and her talking about ironing her hair – like, with the clothes iron – because it was so curly and the ‘in’ thing was to have it worn straight. 🙂

    1. Soup cans out work, but OJ cans, being cardboard, were a lot lighter. I also did the hair ironing with a clothes iron — but what a hassle. The curlers were easier and safer!

  5. I’ve never tried to sleep with curlers that big, but I do remember sleeping with curlers in my hair. I slept fine, but then I’ve always had a hard head. 😉
    You’re my “Orange” in my Scavenger Hunt sheet from the #AtoZChallenge!

  6. Orange can curlers made me smile as I’d never heard of such a thing! We had prickly ones in a heated roller set but I didn’t even use those much. Obviously I was more interested in comfort than beauty and aim pretty sure I never tried sleeping in them. I had laugh at the thought of sleeping with your head handling down.
    As for tans!! I have Celtic skin and readily burn like a lobster so there was no tanning for me. When I got my first bikini, I got severe sunburn. Living in the tropics with such skin I was probably more careful than most but have had my share of skin cancers and a melanoma. On the up side, because I didn’t bake in the sun, my skin has wrinkled as much as some. 😉

    1. Ouch on those sunburns. I have a few diary entries were I mention getting badly sunburned at the lake or at Cape Cod. The rooftop tanning was at least an attempt to ameliorate potential burns. Eventually, I just tried to keep out of the sun.

  7. I remember when I was a little kid in the mid-1960s, I wondered why my hair was “wrinkled” when the other kids had long, straight hair. I used to try to bobby pin my hair when it was wet to straighten it out. But I had Princess and the Pea sydrome and tended to pull a lot of the bobby pins out at night. I saw a picture of myself with a small patch of semi-straight hair amidst the wild curls and I wonder what I was thinking. It took me years to embrace my curls.

    1. Love this story! I also learned to embrace my curls — and got my revenge when curls came into style and everyone was out getting perms when all I had to do was wet my hair and comb it out.

  8. Being a guy and having curly hair, I can only relate to what my mom experienced. She grew up in the era of Shirley Temple curls and suffered, so she said, from application of the dreaded curling tongs! She endured this cosmology of an earlier generation because her mother had worked as a beautician in the 1920s. They resembled a pair of needle nose pliers and when heated up they truly looked like an instrument of torture. Thankfully Shirley changed her hair style in the 1940s, but my mom still followed the curls of fashion over the years. Just recently I found in her boxes of stuff a bunch of those long springy hair clamps used with curlers. I always thought it strange that those with curly hair had to somehow re-curve their curls.

  9. This post delighted me. What strange things one does in the name of beauty. Your comment about having naturally elevated hair made me laugh. The magazine cover with the velvet ribbons on the cans is hilarious. I’ve had a bad sunburn or two in my life, and ouch. Sealing oneself in oil sounds painful too, as does potential frost-bite suntanning. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Deborah. Taming my lofty, curly hair was the bane of my existence in my teens — but I got my revenge later when curly styles were in vogue!

  10. I didn’t use orange juice cans because my hair was normally straight so I wanted curly and used smaller ones. I used to love laying out in the front or back yard and getting a tan through the summer. I did use Bain de Soliel #4 though.

  11. Thanks, everyone, for your comments and stories. Glad to know I was not the only one to suffer for beauty — whether in orange juice can curlers, regular ones or in the hot sun trying to tan.

  12. I was terrible at keeping rollers in my hair Probably why I kept my hair long all my life. I remember my girlfriend streaking my hair… pulling strips of hair with a crochet hook through tiny holes in a cap. I think she pulled through so many that I ended up more blonde. 😂

  13. What we’ll do for beauty!

    I never knew about these orange juice can curlers. There’s a woman who makes YouTube videos of nostalgic hair styles. I’ll see if she ever uses this technique.

  14. I remember my girlfriends and I using baby oil to help speed the “tanning” process along. I do not burn easily so fortunately escaped any horrible sunburns but it makes me shudder even to think about it now. Not our best idea.

  15. We used to go to the beach and pay to get sprayed with “Reef Oil” to enhance and speed up our suntan, then we would lie on our beach towels, turning every so often to get an even tan. We would suffer the next day, but proudly show off our blisters and peeling skin. With the Australian sun, it is no wonder that my age group has one of the highest incidences of melanomas in the world. If only we had known!!

  16. I was thinking about orange juice cans as curlers just this week. Your stories inspired me to write memories following the alphabet for Sepia Saturday (also because Alan is going through the alphabet for prompt photos). I’m not up for daily, but I think I can do weekly. Anyway, my timeline is more 70s-80s. My hair was too limp and straight for the orange juice cans, but there was a time that I used tiny curlers. The little bows on the clips in the photo are too funny!

    1. You should definitely write your memories — weekly is a more reasonable pace. And if you post them at Sepia Saturday you’ll get great feedback.

  17. I never used orange juice can curlers, but I knew of them. I didn’t have a hairstyle needing curlers until I was 20. I got a ‘bubble’ cut and slept on foam curlers – until I got married. This was still before electric curlers, but there were curlers you boiled in hot water to get them hot which curled my hair fairly quickly. The advantage there was unlike electric curlers, they didn’t dry out your hair. But as soon as electric curlers were out on the market, I started using them! As for tanning, I used baby oil for sunscreen so of course, burned easily and often. But I did get nice tans. Too bad we weren’t aware of what we were really doing to our skin back then!

    1. I used the electric curlers at some point, too — but they were always to small to really straighten my hair. Glad to learn you’ve heard of OJ can curlers — nice to know others used them, too.

  18. Your title intrigued me, as I had never heardof orange can curlers and I was wondering what on earth they were. I used to put my straight hair in curlers when I went to bed. But when I got married, i thought it wisest to change this practice! I used to get up early, and put my curlers in, so I had some style to my hair before going to work.

  19. Those were the days! I might be a year or two younger than you as I don’t remember the orange can curler. But I do remember real curlers with bristles. Sleeping with those curlers in was murder!

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